Saturday, October 21, 2017
On our way into the supermarket the other day, I past a man wearing a Cavalry insignia on his ball cap. “Thank you for your service,” I said. Later when I passed him again while walking the eternal aisles, he asked me, “Were you in?” I replied, “Yes, a long time ago, Korea.” He said “Oh, Korea is not that long ago. If you said World War Two, that would have been a long time ago.”
Well Korea was a long time ago, and I have the knees and back to prove it. 1950 seems like forever ago to me, as I'm sure it does to a lot of other men and women of my generation. However, that long ago, which was not so long ago to my younger friend, reminded me of our shortcomings when it comes to public awareness of history, geography, and most especially our national heritage. One survey showing that 20% of our citizenry were unsure of whether we cut the cord from Great Britain in 1776 or some other country, including Afghanistan.
There is much to be learned about these United States of American, past, present and future. This task might well be overwhelming. It might be best to look at things in bite size portions. World War II the most horrific of our many wars is a good starting point. So what do you know about WASPs? That's right, WASPs. Not the White Anglo Saxon Protestants, formerly so much in vogue along Philadelphia's Main Line and other bastions of Ye Olde Guarde. Nor are we focusing on that insect with the terrible sting. Ours is another WASP – the Women Airforce Service Pilots – largely unheralded in their own time and virtually unknown to the several generations that followed.
Your mother or grandmother can probably tell you about Rosie the Riveter and the important role women played in substituting for male factory workers called to uniform during that wartime. But they may have less information about the women who substituted for the pilots bound for combat. This was the unique role played by a thousand women who tested experimental military aircraft, towed targets for ammunition practice and shuttled fighter planes and flying officers across the USA. 38 of these WASPs lost their lives in service to their country. Only a few years ago did Congress finally authorize veteran status to these valiant women.
Now there are less than 100 former WASP pilots remaining. A memorial to them is being put in place at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. It's an exciting story to read. Go to: www.waspmuseum.org